The U.S. presidential hopefuls have begun their countrywide campaign to determine who will represent the Republican and Democratic parties in the upcoming election. The two remaining Democratic candidates are Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
Both candidates have alluring qualities that attract progressive-minded voters: Sanders attracts many with his stance on combating economic inequality, and Clinton is a tempting choice because she is a woman. Just as electing Barack Obama as president was, to many, a small victory in combating racism, so too would the election of Clinton signal to many a new victory in the fight for women’s equality.
However, there seems to be an omnipresent pressure, especially among women, to support Clinton based on the assumption that by supporting Clinton you are supporting women. Simply voting for a woman, however, will not necessarily further the fight for women’s equality. In this instance, people should vote not based on gender, but on which candidate will fight the hardest for women’s equality.
Voting in a female U.S. president would have significant symbolic importance for women’s rights, not all women strive for equality, just like not all racialized individuals believe that racism remains an issue. The sentiment is that a vote for Clinton is a vote for women’s equality. But one can support equality for women and still vote for Sanders.
The debate between whether or not being a feminist, and thus believing in equality for women, morally obligates one to vote for Clinton is a challenging one. Either way, we can acknowledge that we need more women in politics to make women’s voices heard, but one woman’s political views and platform may not necessarily align with increased equality for women. The two sides of the debate seem to be predicated on the difference in opinion between the “old” and “new” feminist ideology. On one hand, feminists from older generations are of the mentality that “women need to stick together,” but feminists of this generation believe that equality for women goes deeper than just banding together.
The opinion of the first camp is seen in statements made by two prominent figures involved in the fight for women’s rights in previous decades: Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright. Steinem came under fire when she made the comment that “when you’re young, you’re thinking: where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie” in response to the question of why so many young women support Sanders over Clinton. As well, Albright drew criticism for saying that there is a “special place in hell for women who don’t help each other” in reference to women choice to vote for Sanders.
To many younger feminists, however, being an independent, informed woman means thinking critically about gender issues and not just simply following female leaders blindly based on their gender. In Clinton’s case, her lack of support among younger females reflects the fact that Clinton may not be the voice for women that many were hoping for. What many voters identify with is a politician that speaks to the issues that matter most to them, and the support for Sanders shows that he has in fact better addressed the issues that matter most to young women in the U.S, issues of class and socioeconomic equality. On this front, Sanders has openly touted his socialist ideals and goals, whereas Clinton’s campaign promises to keep the capitalist status quo.
In thinking back to the federal election in Canada this past fall, there was plenty of hype and debate surrounding who, out of the three main opposition parties, should replace Stephen Harper. Although Elizabeth May, the candidate representing the Green Party, was excluded from certain political debates, she was nonetheless still considered one of the viable options. However, unlike the Clinton in the US, media attention did not focus primarily on May’s gender and how a win for May would be a win for women. This lack of attention may be due to the fact that most people did not expect May to win the presidential election, but I think there’s more to it than that.
Canadian youth have recognized that simply having a female Prime Minister does not necessary mean a step forward in equality for women. In fact, Canada has had a female Prime Minister, albeit for an embarrassingly short term, but during that time the fight for women’s equality did not make huge leaps forward, and there was not an overwhelming sense of hope and inspiration for the progress of women’s status in the political arena. We’ll see what happens in the Democratic run-in as Clinton and Sanders face off for the party nomination.